Legenda o sv. Prokopu (1947)

Legenda o sv. Prokopu (1947)
Article 5519 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-10-2017
Directed by Jiri Trnka
No cast
Country: Czechoslovakia
What it is: Puppet animation

Upon taking refuge in a house during a summer storm, the patriarch of a clan of farmers tells the story of the legend of St. Procopius.

I’m not familiar with the legend in question, but the basic story seems to involve the devil’s attempt to tempt St. Procopius. When the devil’s plan is thwarted, he attempts to get revenge by luring St. Procopius’s companion (a deer) out into the world and into the clutches of a hunter. There is no dialogue or narration to this short, though there are lyrics being sung during sections of it. There’s no listing for this short on IMDB as such; however, it was originally included in a feature film about the seasons called SPALICEK, or THE CZECH YEAR; this short was the section on summer. Even though this is one of his early works, I’m still blown away by the cinematic quality of Trnka’s craft; I’m especially impressed by the way each of his puppet creations has so much character that they all seem like individuals. At it’s best, animation can be a very magical form, and Trnka was one of animation’s great magicians.

Lifeblood (2006)

Lifeblood (2006)
Article 5486 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 7-29-2017
Directed by Steven J. Niles
Featuring Steven J. Niles, Kimberly Niles, Marci Kotay
Country: USA
What it is: Starvation-budgeted indie horror movie

A man driven to destroy the vampire that killed his wife encounters a cult of the monsters intent on resurrecting a former leader of theirs who was burnt at the stake 300 years ago.

First, a little background. Mill Creek Entertainment puts out fifty-movie sets of public domain movies, and I must admit to being rather inexplicably fond of them. They also put out four sets of latter-day independent horror movies, and by independent, I mean maybe a step or two above student films. I picked up the first two sets out of curiosity; I passed on the other two sets because once my curiosity was satisfied (I saw a handful of movies from the sets), I figured it just wasn’t worth the investment; almost every movie I saw was ghastly and annoying. Since I currently am going through my entire collection and watching everything, I decided finally it was time to address one of these sets. However, I have no intention of reviewing all of these movies; in fact, unless any of the entries end up being particularly striking, I may end up only reviewing this one as mostly an acknowledgment that these collections exist. I would have reviewed the first movie off the “Tomb of Terrors” set (called DISK JOCKEY), but I decided not to, as I came to the conclusion after seeing it that it wasn’t even genre.

This, the second movie on the set, is perhaps the most competent movie I’ve seen so far from these sets. At any rate, it was the least annoying of the bunch; it didn’t suffer from the endless non-stop cussing, gratuitous nudity, horrible acting and stupid editing decisions that I’ve encountered before. The most annoying thing about this one is endlessly pulsating soundtrack music that infects many of the scenes. Many of the scenes during the first half of the movie are lit very dimly as well, and the first third of the movie is very muddled. That being said, the movie occasionally shows moments of competence, and the special effects of vampires disintegrating aren’t bad for the budget. Still, the story isn’t particularly engaging, and like all the other movies from these sets, it’s not the least bit scary. And the fight scenes are truly awful.

As stated earlier, this review may stand as my sole comment on these two boxed sets. Unless one of the other movies strikes me in any strong way to inspire another review, this may be the last I mention of them.

Lightning Bryce (1919)

Lightning Bryce (1919)
Article 5460 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 5-24-2017
Directed by Paul Hurst
Featuring Ann Little, Jack Hoxie, Paul Hurst
Country: USA
What it is: Western serial

Lightning Bryce and Kate Arnold inherit the secret to a fortune in gold from their respective fathers, who died after its discovery. However, there is a despicable villain who also seeks the treasure, as well as a hostile tribe of Indians.

I actually wrote this review before the title popped up on my hunt list; I watched it for another project of mine and realized that there was definite fantastic content here, so I wrote this ahead of time in preparation for when it did enter my hunt list (and so I wouldn’t have to watch the whole thing again). It’s a rarity in that it is one of the few complete silent serials. It’s also a rarity in that it is one of the few western serials that has fantastic content; the Indians in the tribe here have several mystical powers that come into play at one point or another in the proceedings. It is, however, really not very good. Most of the first ten episodes is about a tired and repetitive struggle between the good guys and the bad guys to acquire a piece of string and a knife; the string when rapped around the knife reveals the clue to the location of the treasure. Quite frankly, the plot comes to a standstill during this struggle, as no real new information appears and it’s just a series of kidnapping, escapes, fights, etc. Yes, I know this is what some fans of the genre hanker for, but I find very dull when the action is there just to hold off the plot revelations. Things pick up during the final third, but even then, we have problems in that the villain starts acting villainous and mean even when there’s no good reason to do so; his attempt to fool the heroine into a fake marriage makes no sense. In the end, this one is merely passable.

Live and Let Die (1973)

LIVE AND LET DIE (1973)
Article 5436 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-26-2017
Directed by Guy Hamilton
Featuring Roger Moore, Yaphet Kotto, Jane Seymour
Country: UK
What it is: James Bond movie

James Bond investigates the murder of three secret agents and how their deaths are related to a crime lord in New Orleans and a Caribbean dictator.

Seeing as how I’m not really a big fan of the James Bond series, I don’t have any strong feelings one way or another about Roger Moore having taken over the role after the second departure of Sean Connery. However, I do think it’s a bit of a shame they didn’t give him a better kickoff than this relatively listless entry in the Bond series; except for a couple of moments during the speedboat chase, the action scenes aren’t memorable, the henchmen aren’t really a whole lot of fun, and the Bond girls are a bit disappointing. Furthermore, the inclusion of a Southern redneck sheriff feels desperately out of place in a Bond movie, but he must have been popular to have been given a reprise in the subsequent entry in the series. Probably the most impressive thing about the movie is that the theme song was written and performed by Paul McCartney and Wings; given that both Bond and the Beatles were big sixties icons, this is particularly fitting. Most of the gadgetry this time surrounds an all-purpose watch which can also work as a super-magnet, and the fantastic content is further enhanced by a plot that involves voodoo and what appears to be the authentic psychic powers of Jane Seymour’s Tarot card reader. On a side note, it was interesting to note the presence of regional director William Grefe in the credits, who helped with the shark scenes. From what I gather, the series would remain in the doldrums until THE SPY WHO LOVED ME.

Le lac des morts vivant (1981)

LE LAC DES MORTS VIVANT (1981)
Article 5422 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 4-12-2017
Directed by Jean Rollin and Julian de Laserna
Featuring Howard Vernon, Pierre-Marie Escourrou, Anouchka
Country: France / Spain
What it is: Soggy

A village is terrorized by a horde of zombie Nazis that live in the local lake.

The last time I encountered Jean Rollin (Mr. Arty/Erotic/Gory, as I think of him), he was making concessions to coherence and commerciality with THE GRAPES OF DEATH, which wasn’t bad. I wish I could say the same thing here. The gore is pretty light this time around (especially for a zombie movie), the eroticism is replaced by having lots of nudity (which isn’t quite the same thing), and the artiness is nowhere to be found. That’s what’s so disappointing about this one; whatever I felt about his other movies, I always felt that he had an authentic, individual vision that added to their allure. This one feels like a crass throwaway. Rollin himself was embarrassed by the movie and refused for many years to say he directed it. I don’t know what the original French dialogue was like, but the English dubbing is laughably bad. The only interesting thing from a story perspective is that there’s a “good” zombie who becomes attached to the daughter he engendered when he was still alive, and this apparently doesn’t fit in with the zombie code, based on the fight he has with a fellow zombie. If there’s a lesson here, it’s this – if you ambush and kill a passel of wandering Nazis, don’t just dump their bodies in a lake or something like this will happen. My favorite moment – just before a naked woman takes a dip in zombie lake, she pulls a sign out of the ground and throws it away, and I kept wondering if the sign was the international symbol for “Zombies Present – No Swimming Allowed”.

Love at First Bite (1979)

LOVE AT FIRST BITE (1979)
Article 5400 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 3-21-2017
Directed by Stan Dragoti
Featuring George Hamilton, Susan Saint James, Richard Benjamin
Country: USA
What it is: Vampire comedy

After being thrown out of his castle in Transylvania, Dracula travels to New York City to meet a model with whom he’s fallen in love, unaware that her therapist and current lover is a descendant of Van Helsing.

This may not be a great horror comedy, but it’s a good one. In fact, I’m surprised it works as well as it does, but much of the credit goes to George Hamilton (whose performance as Dracula is smooth and assured) and Susan Saint James (who adds some nice touches to her characterization). Neither of these performers overacts (which could have been a great temptation for the character of Dracula in particular), and it’s their work that keeps the movie on the even keel it needs to be for the humor to work. Even the slightly hammier performance by Arte Johnson as Renfield works well; only Richard Benjamin’s performance as the therapist seems overly broad. This is one of those movies that could have very easily gone off the rails if a sense of desperation had crept in, but that never happens. It could have used a few more solid laughs, and it runs out of steam towards the end, but it manages to avoid being annoying. I even like it enough that I won’t dock it for having a scene in a disco, though it helps that the song is well chosen and the dancing is fun.

A Lad an’ a Lamp (1932)

A LAD AN’ A LAMP (1932)
Article 5339 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 1-8-2017
Directed by Robert F. McGowan
Featuring Matthew ‘Stymie’ Beard, Dorothy DeBorba, Bobby ‘Wheezer’ Hutchins
Country: USA
What it is: “Our Gang” short with monkey.

The Our Gang kids believe they have stumbled across Aladdin’s lamp.

This short has the reputation of being one of the funniest ones from the “Our Gang” series, and it is pretty amusing. However, even though it was originally released uncut for TV syndication, it was eventually cut severely and then dropped from the package altogether. This was due to some noticeable racial stereotyping in the episode; check out Stymie’s wishes when he’s trying out a lamp for examples, but the most glaring one is when Spanky wishes that a young black boy named Cotton would turn into a monkey and comments that “all he needs is a tail”. Most of the story hinges on that last wish, as a chimp escapes from a show and appears in front of the kids after Cotton runs off. Pretty much the rest of the short gets its humor from chimp antics, though I find the sequences where various incidents occur in tandem with their wishing on the lamp (some of them engineered by eavesdropping adults) to be the best parts. As might be expected, the lamp isn’t really magic, so it’s a little dodgy as far as the fantastic content is concerned, though throwing a magician into the mix helps a bit.

Little Hiawatha (1937)

LITTLE HIAWATHA (1937)
Article 5297 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 11-13-2016
Directed by David Hand
Featuring the voices of Sally Noble, Mary Rosetti, Millie Walters
Country: USA
What it is: Disney Silly Symphony

Little Hiawatha goes out with his bow and arrow to hunt forest animals, but breaks them when he discovers he doesn’t have the heart for it. Then he meets a bear…

The first half of this movie is pretty much the Disneyesque whimsy you’d expect. This is, of course, not a bad thing, and Disney was good at this approach. Still, the cartoon really takes off when the title character meets the bear; Disney was also great at the scary stuff, and you will find yourself concerned for Hiawatha’s life. As far as the fantastic content goes, this has less than you’d expect from a cartoon. The animals aren’t entirely anthropomorphic, but they’re given some human touches, such as laughter and cleverness, so they can’t quite be called realistic depictions of animals. At any rate, this is a good Disney cartoon.

Lucky Ghost (1942)

LUCKY GHOST (1942)
Article 5253 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-21-2016
Directed by William Beaudine
Featuring Mantan Moreland, F.E. Miller, Maceo Bruce Sheffield
Country: USA
What it is: All-black ghost comedy

Two drifters hit the big time when they take two rich men on in a crap game and visit a nightclub with gambling. However, the owner of the nightclub is a very jealous man… and the club is also haunted.

I’ve encountered Mantan Moreland many times, most notably in KING OF THE ZOMBIES and an assortment of Charlie Chan films, but this is the first time I’ve caught him as the headliner in an all-black film. It looks like he was part of a comedy team known as Miller and Moreland at this time, but Miller is largely the straight man to Mantan’s antics. Mantan is as energetic as ever, and even though he doesn’t quite get as many great lines as he did in KING OF THE ZOMBIES, he makes up for it by doing some great physical comedy; we even get a chance to see him dance. The biggest downside of the movie is that it makes extensive use of what is for me the most tiresome of the black stereotypes of the era – their supposed obsession with gambling with dice; in fact, most of the plot is centered around this concept. At least it’s not your usual “old dark house” story; the ghosts are portrayed as real, and often manifest themselves as skeletons. Still, I think Mantan fans will feel they got their money’s worth with this one, and it is a bit of fun.

Laundry Blues (1930)

LAUNDRY BLUES (1930)
Article 5246 by Dave Sindelar
Date: 9-11-2016
Directed by Mannie Davis and John Foster
Voice cast unknown
Country: USA
What it is: Politically incorrect cartoon

Various Chinese anthropomorphic animals work and sing at a laundry.

I’ve got a collection of banned cartoons, and I’m really not surprised to see this one included in the collection. It’s basically a series of not-very-funny gags involving Chinese stereotypes, with a Jewish stereotype thrown in for good measure. It seems to try to get most of its humor by having the animated characters spout gibberish, though occasionally you can make out individual words or phrases; I heard “Mah-Jongg” and “Hong Kong” at certain points. The best thing about it is that it gets a bit surreal at times, especially during a bizarre street scene. However, most of the humor falls very flat, and there’s very little to recommend here. It’s one of those cartoons where if they cut out all the potentially offensive moments, you’d be left with the opening credits.